Shehan Sumanasekara, in Aviation Voice, 3 August 2020, with this title “June –July MRIA has Handled More Than 50 International Flight Movements”
Once tagged as the World’s Emptiest Airport; MRIA within months has been turned around with many passenger movements. Four years ago, a news article published in the Forbes magazine titled ‘The Story Behind the World’s Emptiest International Airport’ (May 28, 2016), elaborated how Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) was constructed and failed to position its self strategically. However, under His Excellency, the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s vision: ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’, and the government’s policy to develop international airports in Sri Lanka, Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Limited under the able guidance of Major General (Rtd.) G. A. Chandrasiri developed its short, medium and long term strategies to promote the airport said Director (Operations) Mr. Shehan Sumanasekara Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd.
During past two months (June – July) Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport has handled more than 50 international flight movements facilitating over 2188 passengers.
Growing demand for MRIA
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, the aviation industry has been severely affected. However, there was a growing demand for repatriation flights and international ship crew changes. Health Authorities of Sri Lanka had given guidelines for repatriation flight movements and ship crew transfers at international airports. Due to the health and safety measures adopted by Sri Lanka, the space and time slots were limited at BIA to handle these flight movements. MRIA has stepped up to the challenge and has been facilitating the governments repatriation programe. The pandemic also has had an enormous impact on the seafarers, around 90,000 seafarers have been subjected to many hardships onboard cruise ships. [Since] MRIA was strategically located in close proximity to the Galle seaport to carry out seafarer transfers and we aggressively promoted it, Mr. Sumanasekara further added.
Another key factor behind this has been the developed road network connecting the airports and the seaports such as the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa International Seaport and the Galle harbour. Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport had made all measures to facilitate the passenger arrival and transferring process as per the guidelines of the Health Authorities of Sri Lanka. The MRIA’s connectivity with the extensive modern road network has eased the task.
Considering the developing infrastructure, service levels and the convenience, airline[have] considered MRIA positively. For an example, Indigo airlines has been flying to MRIA continuously by operating 20 international flight movements (ATR 72/A320) from 26th June to 31st July and handled 358 passengers. At present the airline is having frequent flight operations to MRIA under the repatriation/crew changing programs. Further, the airline representatives visited MRIA recently and has shown their willingness to commence scheduled flight operations to MRIA once the border restrictions are eased out he stated.
Strategic vision of MRIA
MRIA will be developed as an Exotic Tourism Based Destination. Considering the unique competitive advantages of MRIA such as its location which is unique to the tourism destinations in the Deep South and the Eastern Province, land availability to attract lucrative investment opportunities for aviation related business ventures, synergy for sea-air transshipment and cargo development.
Mr. Sumanasekara noted MRIA will be offering special concessions for the airlines willing to commence scheduled international flight operations. All nine Freedoms of the air to any foreign airline operating in and out of MRIA will be offered. Plans are under way to re-start the Hambantota development program and it is expected that the eco-system around Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport will be developed in the near future. This will revive Mattala as an exotic tourism destination.
Mr. Shehan Sumanasekara, further said “We have understood the strategic importance of Sri Lanka’s geographical location at the southernmost tip of the Indian Ocean right in the center of aviation and maritime routes connecting the East and the West. During the past five years, MRIA was neglected with no favourable strategic plan to promote MRIA. However, after electing the present government, the management of AASL has looked at MRIA progressively and initiated a medium and a long term program to promote MRIA. As a result, airlines are now looking at MRIA and eagerly looking ahead for schedule operations. The newly developed infrastructure such as the southern expressway also has encouraged international airlines including the international maritime and aviation industry players to choose MRIA as a destination for international ship crew changes. We have been able to utilize MRIA very effectively during the COVID-19 crisis. For example, we supported the government’s repatriation flight program heavily by operating humanitarian flights to MRIA in bringing back our own citizens safely. In addition to that, airlines such as Air India, Air Asia, Alliance Air, Myanmar Airlines, and Indigo Airlines to name a few, have had initial discussions with us to commence scheduled flight operations. We have offered our fullest cooperation and look to provide certain waivers to Airlines. I should thank the assistance provided by Hon Namal Rajapaksa, the Chairperson of the Hambantota district development committee, who took the initiative with the guidance of Hon. Minister of Aviation to obtain the said waivers through a cabinet paper which was prepared by AASL.
Given this background, MRIA will soon become one of the busiest airports in the region. With the eco system being developed in the region, the airport will be a key differentiator among other regional airports. MRIA will soon be a role model and example under the visionary leadership and will fly into new heights within the global aviation industry.
Mr. Shehan Sumanasekara